Meet the student rabbi who will join a New Haven-area pro-Palestinian Jewish group – New Haven Register

Posted By on July 6, 2022

While her German grandfather was incarcerated at Dachau concentration camp by the Nazis, Ye is half Chinese-American, and that led many to reject her as a Jew.

When I began rabbinical school is when I observed my first Shabbat, is when I observed my first Rosh Hashana, my first Yom Kippur, my first Passover, she said. All of these experiences I had for the very first time as a rabbinical student.

Growing up in Waterville, Maine, in a secular household, Ye, 27, wanted to explore her Jewish roots, but when she asked people if she could join a Sabbath meal or a Rosh Hashana service, I was met with no, I was met with, Youre not Jewish, she said.

To me, I am absolutely Jewish. And Im also half Chinese, which, you know, the Jewish world has feelings about that. But I maintain that Im fully Jewish.

Mending Minyan, a 4-year-old community, is pleased Ye didnt give up. She moved to New Haven three weeks ago to become the groups rabbinical intern, a year before she graduates and is ordained a rabbi.

Ye has been involved for two years with the mostly home-based Mending Minyan, which describes itself on its website as a group of Jews and friends of Jews in/around New Haven who are practicing joy based Jewish ritual decoupled from zionism and in service to building radical Jewish practices in support of struggles against white supremacy, capitalism, and colonization.

You wont find an Israeli flag at this years Rosh Hashana service, which Ye will lead at the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge. The members dont say Next year in Jerusalem at the end of their Passover Seder.

But they might say, Next year without racism or Next year in fabulous queerness.

Mending Minyan members say they are filling a need for Jews who dont feel welcome in traditional congregations that support Israel but may not support LGBTQ Jews.

When Mikveh Warshaw came to the Yale School of Nursing, I was seeking out connections with other Jews who were non-Zionist, anti-Zionist and diasporic to pray together to do Shabbats. Also queer Jews.

They became connected to Jewish Voice for Peaces Havurah Network, which supports anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian Jewish leadership. At a gathering at the Isabelle Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, she met Ye and Sarah Lipkin, who co-founded Mending Minyan with Warshaw.

Since Ye has been attending school in Pennsylvania, Its been a long relationship-building process from afar, Warshaw said. While other student rabbis have led High Holy Days services, Ye is our first to be a part of us, Warshaw said. Ye also will be a chaplain intern at Yale New Haven Hospitals St. Raphael campus in the fall.

Besides welcoming anyone who feels similarly about Israel/Palestine, Mending Minyan is engaged in racial justice and immigration justice work in the community, Warshaw said. Its also a place where we can really wrestle with what does it mean to be Jewish? How do we pray?

It felt like people were doing that in little pockets, but we just wanted to bring people together to do it more intentionally together and to have joy and to be able to celebrate and complicate what it means to be Jewish, she said.

Lipkin also was raised in a secular home, with a Jewish father and Catholic mother. I have felt very disconnected from both my Jewish ethnic and cultural and religious connections. And I would say that Ive always had that longing of wanting spiritual community, wanting a place to pray and be with people, they said.

Since Ive been young Ive also been engaged in social justice movements, they said. And that feels very connected to my spiritual life and practice, and as I started learning more about whiteness, and sort of its connection to colonization and slavery, I started looking at myself and really wanting to be grounded in my cultures.

Bringing on Ye as a rabbi was not a simple decision, Warshaw said. Weve had a lot of meetings because theres many other people that are part of an admin team and that group had a lot of intentional meetings about what does it mean to bring a rabbi when we describe ourselves as lay-led, she said.

Weve had a lot of different people with different Jewish experience, she said. Weve had some people who are children of rabbis. Weve had some people that have been, this is my first Jewish ritual. And we want to make space for both of those people to be able to feel ownership and engaged in Jewish ritual. So it was big questions.

By Ye felt the same about not wanting to just be the ruler of what is Jewish and this is how you do it, but to be a teacher and to be a supporter of the committee, Warshaw said.

I think thats how itll always work, Ye said. I joined this community knowing that historically it has been a lay-led community and that moving into the future, it should remain a lay-led community. And there are complications with that with me joining as a rabbi with inherent power dynamics.

But I still strive to ensure that all services all programs, all events are planned by the community and led by the community, Ye said.

Weve had new people that come in, and within a few months they lead a Shabbat, Warshaw said. Thats beautiful. Weve been trying to build it in a way where theres scaffolding for people to lead, such as optional prayers.

Ye was well on my way to be a concert pianist but decided to take Hebrew at Middlebury College and saw the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Colleges website.

It strikes me as some sort of maybe social justice-oriented Judaism, she said. I ran upstairs to my parents and I said, Hey, I could be a rabbi. And every single one of us, including myself, laughed, because there was no way that it wasnt a joke. There was no way, you know.

The she saw the college had a Prospective Student Institute, and they would fly me out and put me up and I walked back to my parents and I said, Hey, theres this thing. And we decided, well, we still think this is a joke, but theres nothing to lose, right?

So she went and the first day of the institute was the day Donald Trump was elected president. The school canceled classes. A classmate was crying in the restroom. She thought, Oh, this is an OK place to be who I am.

But she had doubts as a secular, anti-Zionist, Chinese-American Jew. So she called her mentor, Rabbi Brant Rosen of Tzedek Chicago, who encouraged her.

Its kind of miraculous to me that Im about to start my sixth and final year, Ye said.

Lipkin, a co-founder of Mending Minyan, told Ye how much she is welcome in New Haven. There is a huge community of people here who want to be participating in a kind of Judaism that you are bringing to our community, they said. And that doesnt exist in New Haven. Theres nowhere else that you can sort of bring your full self, bring your politics and bring your spirituality in this way, I think. And I think theres like a real longing everywhere, but specifically here. Im just really excited that youre here.

Shelly Altman, a leader in Jewish Voice for Peace in New Haven, said JVP chapters, which are political anti-Zionist groups, have held services. Some of that happens within the chapters themselves, whereas were incredibly lucky enough to have this happening in New Haven as a completely focused spiritual community, he said. There will be more.

Ye and others say that being anti-Zionist is not being antisemitic, though she has been called that.

But Ye is working to build relationships with other rabbis and congregations. I think its important for us to have relationships in the community, she said. And its important for us to have relationships with people who we dont agree with. But events that we co-sponsor we will not be saying the prayer for the State of Israel, and if were co-sponsoring, were going to collaborate and its going to be a safe space for me and my community.

They need to learn from us, Altman said. I feel like the work that Ive been doing with Jewish Voice for Peace for the last nine years, has really been education work. You know, sometimes its out in the streets. Sometimes its bringing Palestinian teenagers here to dance, and having events about Palestinian culture. Its all education.

He said when he writes an op-ed, he sees the same people attacking him personally. Jewish congregations in Connecticut need to learn from what were doing rather than trying to vilify us, Altman said. I think that the way you do that is by building the relationships, even if you dont agree with each other. The vilification has to stop.

Altman became involved in the pro-Palestinian movement when he went to the Middle East with a delegation from Eyewitness Palestine.

As we took a bus from the Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem in the first half-hour that I was there, it just changed my world, changed my life, he said. As an American, as a Jew, I couldnt possibly not take this on as the most important thing in my life. I saw more of the oppressive conditions that exist there and have learned so much more about them in the intervening eight years.

Ye has become well enough known in New Havens social justice arena that she was asked to speak at the rally protesting the Supreme Courts decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Mending Minyan has raised enough money through its GoFundMe page, Help Mending Minyan Reach New Heights, to pay Ye $6,000, matched by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

Their total goal is $18,000, which will pay Ye to lead High Holy Days services, as well as the admin team and other expenses.

People find their place in Jewish life for different reasons, said Rosen, Yes mentor in Chicago. For her, its a function of who she is in a very deep way. Its also part of her ethnic and moral sensibility.

Rosen said when Ye joined Tzedek Chicago and then led a High Holy Days service as an intern, it was really the first Yom Kippur service she had ever attended and she was leading it. She took to it very, very powerfully.

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Meet the student rabbi who will join a New Haven-area pro-Palestinian Jewish group - New Haven Register

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